Split Squat Exercise: Tips, How-To, Common Mistakes + FAQ

One exercise that many athletes have a love-hate relationship with is the split squat. The exercise doesn't look very exciting at first, but looks can be deceiving. The exercise is ideal for building muscle mass in the legs and all you need is a barbell or dumbbells.

In this article we explain the split squat step-by-step, cover the most common mistakes and answer any questions you may have about the exercise.

Which muscles do you use?

The pivot squat, like almost any other variation of the squat, targets the thigh muscles. The quadriceps in particular are heavily trained by performing split squats. In addition, you will also feel the exercise in your glutes, since you also use this muscle group during the performance.

Since you have to stay balanced during the exercise, the muscles in your back and abdomen are also used. You can also perform the exercise with a barbell or dumbbells. If you use dumbbells, you must of course hold them well. Depending on how much load your legs can withstand, it can also become challenging for your forearms. Holding the dumbbells can be quite heavy.

Split Squat Exercise

Performing the split squat

Follow the steps below to perform a successful split squat. Read each step carefully before starting the exercise. Do you have trouble remembering everything? Keep this description handy so you can quickly read it back at the gym.

  1. Place the barbell at the correct height

    It is important that you can easily lift the barbell out of the squat rack. Make sure you choose the right height for this. Also, keep in mind that you need quite some space to perform the split squat and that you do not choose a squat rack that is too tight.

  2. Lift the barbell and stand up straight

    Place the barbell on the back of your shoulders and grip it firmly. Lift the barbell off the rack and stand up straight. Tighten your back so that the barbell stays neatly in place. Focus on pushing the shoulder blades in so that the barbell cannot move during the exercise.

  3. Take one step forward

    Now take a big step forward so that you are in the starting position of the exercise. It will initially take a while to see how big that step actually needs to be. It is therefore advisable to start with an empty barbell for the first time. You can then practice unpacking and the distance you have to stand for a successful split squat.

  4. Lower your front leg until your knee is bent 90 degrees

    Lower your front leg until your knee is bent 90 degrees. The idea is that your shin remains as straight as possible and does not protrude too far forward. The size of the first step you took is therefore very important.

    While lowering, keep your abs constantly contracted and push your pecs up. This way you keep a straight position during the entire performance of the split squat.

  5. Move back up to the starting position

    Now push yourself back up from your front leg until you are back in the starting position. Keep contracting your back and abs so that you remain neatly balanced during the movement.

  6. Now repeat this as often as desired

    Now that you've done one rep, you can repeat this move as many times as you want. A good goal for the first time is to get 8 reps. Of course, this can also be more or less, depending on what you like and what your goal is. Then turn it over so that you take a step forward with your other leg. Repeat for the same number of reps.

Common mistakes

The split squat is an exercise in which you can make quite a lot of mistakes without realizing it. To make sure you don't make those mistakes or recognize them when they do, we've detailed them below. Are you unsure about your technique? Then read through all the common mistakes and check your own technique, because maybe you are unconsciously guilty of one or more of the mistakes below.


  1. Taking a step too small with your front leg If you start the split squat with your right leg, you should take a step forward, as described earlier in this article. However, many people take too small a step. This results in them not being able to make a complete movement. During the lowering, your lower leg will move too far forward, making it difficult for you to perform a full rep. So make sure your first step is big enough.

  2. Taking too big a step with your front leg We also regularly see the opposite of the previous mistake, namely taking too big a step. While lowering, your knee should be at a 90-degree angle. If you take too big a step, this will not work and it will also be very difficult to sink deep enough. So make sure that your step is not too big.
  3. Not Lowering Deep Enough
    A split squat can feel very heavy pretty quickly. Many people still want to perform extra repetitions and (unconsciously) eat away a part of the movement. Make sure you don't do this. If you find it's getting too heavy to perform a correct full movement, it's best to simply put the weight back on and do fewer reps or less weight the next set. Always make sure to perform a full split squat.
  4. Not tensing the back
    The last common mistake in split squats is not tensing the back muscles. If you don't pay attention to this, you will notice that you will hang forward with your torso during the performance. This will put extra tension on your back and you will notice that you will start lifting more and more from your back. As you continue to tighten the back and push the shoulder blades in, you'll notice that your upper body stays upright and you perform the exercise as fully as possible from your quadriceps.

TIP: Try another exercise for your quadriceps, such as the back squat or front squat. View the overview with all quadriceps exercises.

Frequently asked questions about the split squat

We round out this article on the split squat with some frequently asked questions about the exercise. Do you still have questions that have remained unanswered after reading? Leave a comment at the bottom of this article and we will answer your question as soon as possible.

Is a split squat the same as a lunge?

Split squats and (walking) lunges are very similar, but they are different exercises. With a split squat, your front leg remains in a constant position during the exercise. You put it back next to your back leg when you're done with your set. This is not the case with a lunge. In this exercise, you put the legs back next to each other after each repetition.

Is a split squat a compound exercise?

The split squat can be seen as a compound exercise. You train your quadriceps, glutes, abs, and back with the exercise. That is enough to call it a compound exercise.

Can you do the split squat with the smith machine?

Yes, it is possible to use a smith machine. Please note that you are therefore bound by the freedom of movement of the smith machine. This can make the exercise a bit more difficult, as your natural movement may be different from that of the smith machine.

Split squat vs Bulgarian split squat?

Both exercises are great to perform for strong and toned legs and buttocks. The Bulgarian split squat will be slightly more difficult for most people than the regular split squat. This is because it is even more difficult to keep a straight upper body with the Bulgarian split squat.

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